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Review: Forget electricity — what this 'Revolution' needs is originality

The NBC series is set in a brave new world of no power where militias, bandits and archers rule the day. Good if you're 12, not so good if you're not.

September 16, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Billy Burke as Miles in "Revolution."
Billy Burke as Miles in "Revolution." (Bob Mahoney / NBC )

In the opening scenes of "Revolution," a new adventure series debuting Monday on NBC, electricity disappears from the world. It is not one of those EMP-burst scenarios that haunt off-the-grid conspiracy types — search for "EMP burst" online and you'll see who I mean — but a kind of ontological evaporation of the thing itself.

Obviously, there is some technological hocus pocus involved, because as the power winks out, we see family man Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) hurriedly download something Scientific from a laptop to a thumb drive embedded in what looks like an amulet. (An amulet!) But it is a magical sort of science, really, whose main import is that it allows the show's creators to make a medieval epic — with crossbows, swordplay, horses — without spending the money to build a whole new old world.

So we jump 15 years into the future — your future — as America, or what we see of it, has returned to a life of farming, hunting, gathering and whittling. The effect of the permanent blackout has included the partial destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the St. Louis Gateway Arch, which I am pretty sure would withstand a simple absence of power and would indeed be harder to destroy without it. (Although gunpowder does seem to still work.) But it does say "post-apocalypse."

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One might point out as well that humankind led a relatively civilized and technologically complicated existence before electric power and that the Industrial Revolution ran not on electricity but steam. There may be an answer to that embedded in some future episode, of course. And again, it will be a magic answer.

Ben, daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) and son Danny (Graham Rogers), an asthmatic hothead — not the best combination — are now living outside Chicago in a suburban cul-de-sac that seems to have wandered away from whatever tract it was a cul-de-sac in and settled itself far out in the country. Mother Rachel, whom we saw in the prologue, is reported dead, but since she's played by Elizabeth Mitchell it does not even constitute a spoiler to suggest she isn't.

We learn in bits and pieces that America now exists as a number of "republics," that the roads are ruled by militia and bandits, and that teenage Charlie dreams of traveling the world beyond her "village," despite being told that "there is nothing worth seeing, not anymore." Events will propel her into it, in any case.

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The show was created by Eric Kripke ("Supernatural"), with J.J. Abrams as executive producer (no guarantee of anything, good or bad) and Jon "Iron Man" Favreau directing the pilot. I would imagine that "The Hunger Games" was mentioned somewhere between pitch and screen: Charlie is a teenage girl with a bow and an arrow, or rather many arrows, in a new world of braves.

There is also a bit of "The Wizard of Oz," or if you prefer, "Lord of the Rings," in the show's hit-the-road first episode, and some "Star Wars" too — Charlie's long-lost Uncle Miles (Billy Burke), when she finds him, turns out to be very much the reluctant Han Solo to her eager Luke (He even calls her "kid"). Their combined actions, one assumes, will lead to the "revolution" the title promises, unless "revolution" turns out to mean something else entirely. But I sense a rebel alliance forming.

Also in the mix are Zak Orth as a Google multimillionaire impoverished by the end of money — his is the Cowardly Lion role, and as close as the show's first hour gets to comedy — and Anna Lise Phillips as a medicine woman. Giancarlo Esposito, who was Gus Fring on "Breaking Bad," he may be wistfully remembering, plays another soft-spoken, implacable bad guy here, an insurance adjuster turned military enforcer.

This kind of genre stuff can be fun, involving or thought-provoking without necessarily being strictly sensible or even good. Tom Swift did not stand on that sort of ceremony. You can stretch the bounds of credibility pretty far if you've got your audience looking elsewhere — if your special effects are awesome, sure, but also if your dialogue is fresh and your mood infectious and your characters original.

Or if that audience consists of 12-year-olds, or the 12-year-olds at heart. If I were 12, I would be quite completely on board with "Revolution."

But as a professionally discerning adult, I could not help but notice that the characters are fairly stock, the situations familiar and, some nifty digital backgrounds notwithstanding, the production continually felt more like an elaborate game of let's pretend than it did a window into some real other world. I didn't buy a second of it.

Still, I will stick around for a few more episodes at least, hoping the show lets its hair down a little — it is serious about a situation rife with opportunities for humor. Possibly, it will find the time to think more about the ordinary culture of the post-apocalypse.

What does the music sound like? Has community theater blossomed? Is there still coffee? And how is everybody holding up without television?

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Revolution'

Where: NBC

When: 10 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for violence)

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